Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, and the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever! – Jeremiah 33:11
Jeremiah 33 is written in a time of crisis. The southern kingdom of Judah is on the brink of exile. The Babylonians have surrounded the city of Jerusalem and are preparing to bring the city to its knees. Total destruction is on the horizon. Even for the prophet Jeremiah things are not good. Jeremiah is currently being held in the court of the guard, a prisoner of his own people because of his message of condemnation due to the sins of the nation. His imprisonment was viewed as a way to help silence an unwelcome voice. It is a time when nothing seems to be going right, and there is no reason for joy.
Yet Jeremiah’s message is not filled with mourning and pain. Instead, Jeremiah speaks a word of hope and thanksgiving. While God is going to punish the nation for their sins, God will not abandon the people. Even though the Babylonians are going to destroy the city and heap piles of dead bodies on the ground, there will come a time when laughter will again be heard in the city and life will return. Even though now the city is destroyed, the temple singers will once again lead the people in praise shouting, “give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, and the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!”
It seems strange that Jeremiah would provide a message of hope in the midst of such destruction. It’s strange that Jeremiah would give thanks for the goodness of the Lord when the Babylonians are carrying people off to exile. But it’s because Jeremiah’s hope is not based on the present circumstances, but God’s promise for the future. Jeremiah follows his declaration of thanksgiving with a reminder of God’s promise.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness. – Jeremiah 33:14-16
The reason that Jeremiah can look forward to a time of thanksgiving even in the midst of destruction is because Jeremiah has placed hope in the Messiah. The Lord God will not abandon the people. The Lord will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first. Even though the land seems destroyed now, God says that even in this place joy and gladness will return. The Messiah will make all things new.
Being a thankful person is not based on feelings. Feelings come and go. One minute life is filled with joy, the next minute horror strikes. If thankfulness is based on feelings it will always change due to the changing wind. Instead, thankfulness is based on a decision and a promise. It is based on a decision to not be controlled by present circumstances, but by a reminder of all of the ways God showers out blessings. But even more so, being a thankful person is based on a promise. It’s based on the promise that God will not abandon the people but will raise up a righteous Branch. It’s based on the truth that the Messiah has come and that the Messiah is coming. That two thousand years ago the Messiah was born in the small town of Bethlehem and that birth marked the in-breaking of a new way of life. And there is coming a day when the Messiah will return, when God will create a new Heaven and a new earth and when the entire creation will be restored into a proper relationship with God. And because we believe in the promises of God, we can be thankful in all stages of life; whether in laughter or tears, sickness or health, war or peace, good or bad.
As we leave the season of Thanksgiving and enter the season of Advent awaiting the birth of the God child, may we remember that it is this tiny child that we hope in that will change the fortunes of the world. And because we wait and hope in the birth of this child, we of all people can be thankful.